Today we have Part II in YA author Peter McLennan’s three-part series on the hows and wherefores of self publishing. If you missed Part I three weeks ago, I thoroughly recommend you check it out if you have ever considered self publishing, or even if you are just curious to know exactly what’s involved. I know it was an eye-opener for me, albeit a welcome one should I ever decide to go down that path. Anyway, if you have read the first instalment you’ll be wanting me to skedaddle so you can read Part II, so without further ado … here’s Peter!
This is the second part of my trilogy on on-line self-publishing. Now that you’ve laid the foundations , you’re ready to reformat your work so it can be digested by the sites that will convert it into things people can buy. (Of course, you should keep a pristine copy of your manuscript safely tucked away, and only work on copies for each submission.)
Documentation on how to reformat your work is available on each of the self-publishing web sites. I’m only going to mention tricks and traps that aren’t otherwise clear or are easily lost amid the eReams of information available.
CreateSpace is the print-on-demand supplier to Amazon. Since the ultimate product is a hard copy, you need to reformat your document so that it looks like a book. This involves adjusting the page size, margins, pagination, etc. CreateSpace provides templates that you can use or refer to, but be careful: these can be defective, with inconsistent font sizes, etc.
While CreateSpace accepts uploads in .doc format, I found that this didn’t always get the page alignment right. The solution was to convert the .doc to .pdf using Word 2010, and then upload the .pdf.
The hardest part about using CreateSpace is cover design (unless you use one of their prefabricated layouts). Since the cover must be printed, it needs to be done in high resolution: at least 300 dpi. Worse, because it may not be printed and trimmed precisely, it has to be larger than your book, there are areas you can’t use, the spine width depends on the page count, there has to be a barcode on the back, and so on. Fortunately, CreateSpace also provides templates for covers.
You’ve slaved over the formatting of your masterpiece until it’s perfect. Bad news: eBook readers (the gadgets, not the people) aren’t as smart as word processors. Worse news: they’re wilful. They’ll reformat your work as they see fit, they won’t get it quite right, and they’ll all do it differently. Regardless of the sophisticated formatting in your word processor file, eBook readers will happily place section breaks at the top of a page, start a line with an m-dash, make your block quotes look the same as the rest of the text, etc. While your aim is obviously to minimise such problems, you won’t be able to eradicate them entirely. If you’re a perfectionist (and you probably should be), this is rather galling.
The good news is that eBooks require smaller covers, so you can easily downsize your CreateSpace cover for them.
The main problem I experienced with the Kindle Direct conversion was that I wanted to use a sans-serif font for block quotes to distinguish them from regular text. However, Kindle refused to grant my wish so I had to resort to other tactics such as indentation, italics and font size variations. You can see an example on page 1 of the free preview here (compare the paperback and Kindle versions).
Smashwords is ambitious: it tries to create nine different formats of eBook from your source file. It’s also relatively crude, and may require you to dumb down your formatting and do things its way. In particular, you’ll need to master the use of ‘styles’ in Word. Unfortunately, I’d already mastered them too well and was using a sophisticated hierarchy; eg, my ‘para-first’ style was based on my ‘para’ style, which was based on my ‘normal’ style.
My first Smashwords conversions were poor. Distressingly, as soon as you upload something for conversion, Smashwords assumes the results are perfect: they go public straight away and are queued for distribution to other sellers (Apple, Barnes and Noble, etc). You don’t get to check them first. As a result, potentially defective copies of your work are offered for sale, only to be replaced with the next trial potentially within minutes. (Smashwords does provide an option to ‘unpublish’ your work which minimises the duration for which dodgy versions are out there, but there are dire warnings against doing so.) Because of this, I recommend that you be as prepared as possible when commencing the Smashwords publishing process, avoid excessive experimentation, and be ready to fix errors and upload corrected versions in quick succession once you’ve started.
To avoid spamming the world with defective eBooks (and there’s enough of them already), I quickly succumbed to doing things the way Smashwords recommends rather than trying to gently massage my masterpiece. This drastic process involves stripping all the formatting from your document and then putting it back in again—but in the Smashwords-approved manner.
Actually, I still cheated a bit. If you’ve already used multiple paragraph styles (and you should have), you can keep track of them by prepending the style name to the paragraph mark (¶ ) for the relevant paragraph; eg, ‘Chapter 1’ becomes ‘Chapter 1#CHAPHDG#¶ ’. This makes it much easier to apply Smashwords-friendly styles after you’ve purged the formatting, especially if you use ‘Find and Replace’ to automate the process.
In addition to applying styles, you also have to reinstate character formatting and some special characters.
Even after this radical surgery, my lean-and-mean document still confused Smashwords slightly. I suspect that it inherited some non-standard customisations from my Normal.dot template. If this may affect you, I recommend renaming your current Normal.dot (or .dotx) for safe keeping. Next time you run Word, it will create a nice vanilla one which will be more to Smashwords’ taste.
Part III …
…of this series will provide some tips for checking the results of your conversions.
If you’ve found this information useful, then you probably wouldn’t like the novel that yielded it. But you might have kids, nephews, etc, who would! It’s about a fourteen-year-old named Jason who can’t work out how to get climate change fixed—until he saves the life of the mysterious and powerful Graham. Graham promises a reward, and Jason asks him to do something to stop climate change. The request is caught by the media, so Jason thinks the man’s trapped and has to keep his word.
But Graham’s got other ideas.
Jason’s got a fight on his hands.
Peter McLennan served for 28 years in the Royal Australian Air Force, where he focused on strategic planning. He has tertiary qualifications in engineering, information science and government, and a PhD in planning for uncertainty. He has had several non-fiction monographs and papers published.
Peter now writes fiction from his home in country Victoria, Australia. His hobbies include playing computer games badly and developing software badly. You can find Who Can Save the Planet? online in print version, Kindle, and other eBooks.
Thanks Peter! This is all really interesting information. I’m looking forward to seeing what you have to say in Part III (due for publication on Friday 27 July).
- Convert MS Word docs to e-books for free (howto.cnet.com)
- Is Smashwords Even Worth the Trouble? (richardallenrh.com)
- eBook Formatting Tips (jesscscott.wordpress.com)
- Formatting Your Ebook for Kindle, Barnes and Noble (or Epub), and Smashwords (selfpubauthors.com)
- eBook Marketing (pepperphillips.com)